Do Browser Notifications Work?

If you’ve been a long-time reader, you know this site isn’t just a publication; it’s also my test playground. I love to try different methods and solutions to see what works and if I can realize a return on investment (ROI) on the platforms or integrations I implement. One service that I thought showed a lot of promise was integrating a browser notification service.

What Are Browser Notifications?

Browser notifications are an increasingly common tool for websites to engage with users in real-time. They are messages that can be displayed to users even when they are not actively browsing the site. This technology is rooted in enhancing user experience by providing timely, relevant, and personalized updates. Here’s what the opt-in looked like on Martech Zone:

Once you click allow and provide permission, we’d send out a push notification to each of our subscribers each time we publish a new article.

How Browser Notifications Work

The magic behind browser notifications is a concoction of modern web technologies, predominantly service workers and push services. Service workers act as a conduit, facilitating actions like push notifications outside the webpage’s direct scope. They operate as background processes in the browser, managing tasks such as caching content for offline use and processing push messages.

Push services are integral to the notification ecosystem, functioning over HTTPS to deliver messages. The process begins with the website requesting permission to send notifications. Once granted, the browser generates a unique subscription for the user. This includes an endpoint URL and a set of keys enabling secure communication.

The subscription details are sent back to the web server, which stores them for when a notification needs to be sent. To push a notification, the server sends a request to the browser’s push service with the necessary payload, which is then relayed to the correct user’s device. The service worker intercepts this message and uses predefined rules to display the notification.

The Need for Third-Party Notification Services

Push technology’s reliability and security requirements necessitate robust infrastructure and adherence to stringent protocols. Here are a few reasons why third-party notification services are not just helpful but often essential:

Best Practices for Browser Notifications

To make browser notifications a tool for success rather than a nuisance, best practices are paramount. First and foremost, notifications should be opt-in, giving users control over their receipt. Once permission is granted, notifications must be timely, pertinent, and provide tangible value to the user.

Segmentation is crucial; users should receive notifications based on their behavior and preferences. E-commerce sites, for example, might use browsing history to inform users about sales of products they’ve viewed or added to their carts.

Industries well-suited for browser notifications include e-commerce, news and media, gaming, productivity applications, and travel. These industries can leverage notifications for sales alerts, breaking news, game updates, project deadlines, and travel itinerary changes. You might notice publications like mine may not be well-suited… and it wasn’t.

Why I Canceled My Browser Notification Service

With 7,000 browser notification subscribers and up to 20 weekly articles, I might get a handful of subscribers to click through. The service was pretty expensive – on par with my email newsletter. But my email newsletter brings thousands of visitors, while this would only bring a few. I kept footing the bill for months simply because I had so many subscribers and din’t want to lose them. Walking away meant there was no way ever to reclaim that audience. The numbers never really got better, though, so I canceled.

Your results may differ based on your offer, industry, ability to segment, and the types of notifications you’re sending. With appropriate use, personalization, and adherence to best practices, browser notifications can significantly boost user engagement and satisfaction.

It just didn’t for me!

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